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As designer/architect James R. Loewenberg began planning the centerpiece of his massive residential project in downtown Chicago—an 822-ft.-tall mixed-use tower near Millennium Park—he looked for help from an outside architect. He chose a relative unknown, Jeanne Gang, whose biggest feat until then had been a community college theater. “I didn’t want another building by another ‘starchitect,’ “Loewenberg says. “I thought I could accomplish much more with a fresh young face.” He wagered well.
Gang took what would have been one more big box of concrete and glass and turned it into an undulating sculpture by wrapping balconies around the entire structure. The cantilevered projections of the Aqua ebb and flow serpentinely, disappearing entirely here and thrusting out up to 12 feet there. The effect is of a rippling sand dune or a weathered cliff of sedimentary rock. The adornments have a practical side, too: They extend views and shade rooms from the high-in-the-sky summer sun, reducing the need for air conditioning.
Gang does not live or act like a celebrity. She drives a 2005 Toyota Prius or bicycles between her office and her home in a high-rise that faces Grant Park in Chicago’s South Loop. She patiently spells her name for a receptionist at the Aqua who doesn’t recognize her. Her designs threaten to turn her into a star, however. She has taught at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton Universities and is an adjunct professor at IIT. She’s invited to give twice as many speeches than she can. Architecture groups from across the U.S. and Europe show up weekly to tour the Aqua.
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